Toll proposal for Mobile bridge project raises concerns

Controversy growing over proposed Mobile toll bridge

MOBILE, Ala. (WSFA) - A $6 toll proposal to help pay for a new bridge and expanded Bayway across the Mobile Bay is concerning people who use the I-10 route.

For 22 years the Alabama Department of Transportation has worked on finding a solution for the anticipated severe congestion in the area. ALDOT has proposed a $2.1 billion project that would result in updated infrastructure and toll to cross Mobile River Bridge.

ALDOT Director John Cooper said they can’t pay for the project without a toll.

“In my opinion, that project has to be built because I think the alternative is unthinkable,” Cooper said. “I don’t like charging people tolls, but I don’t have the money to do it. And the straight fact is these are the way these projects are getting done across the country.”

However, toll opposition has emerged from local communities surrounding the state throughout the last couple of months.

There would be toll-free routes, but Cooper said it would add an extra 45 minutes to someone’s trip.

Public Information Office for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project gave a presentation showcasing which routes would be tolled when the project was complete.
Public Information Office for the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project gave a presentation showcasing which routes would be tolled when the project was complete.

Here are the current possible toll options:

  • $6 maximum toll rate for someone without a toll road transponder
    • There is a $3 surcharge for those without a transponder
    • A transponder costs $5-$15
  • Frequent user discount
    • Five trips per month
    • 15% discount on trips over four
    • Requires a transponder
  • $90 monthly pass for frequent users
    • Requires a transponder

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, held a town hall meeting in Prichard to discuss the matter.

“In our initial meetings with ALDOT they got in their head they wanted to do tolls, and I said ‘that’s not going to work,’”Byrne said at the meeting.

A spokesperson with Gov Kay Ivey’s office said in a statement that the project needs to move forward.

“Governor Ivey knows that it is vital we move the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project forward for the reasons of commerce, efficiency and safety. The governor is looking at all options and knows that in order to move the best plan forward, we must have all stakeholders at the table to discuss viable solutions.”
Gina Maiola- Governor Kay Ivey's Spokesperson

State Auditor Jim Zeigler created a Facebook page called “Block the Mobile Bayway Toll” that has gathered more than 42,000 members.

“Either other funding for a new bay bridge or fix the current Wallace Tunnels and Bayway,” Zeigler said in an interview with Mobile’s FOX10 News.

Freight trucks and commercial vehicles may pay more than the $6, according to ALDOT. The Alabama Trucking Association said they appreciate the need for the proposed Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project. However, the association has concerns over putting a toll on an existing highway.

“But since the project’s inception, the estimated cost for the project ballooned from $773 million to $2.1 billion, it has expanded to include tolling an existing roadway, the Wallace Tunnel, as part of the project… a practice to which the trucking industry has had long-standing opposition.”
Mark Colson- Alabama Trucking Association President & CEO

Public comments continue in the Mobile-area:

“There’s a lot of people whose driving in every day and coming home from work. Ninety bucks a month. That’s unbelievable,” one resident said.

“I will need to go once a week. I don’t want to pay a toll to go to the only health care that I have," another resident said at a Prichard town hall meeting.

The project plans to have a six lane cable-stay bridge that is 215 feet in the air. The $2.1 billion project would be paid for with grants, public subsidy, private equity and federal loans.

Mobile River Bridge and Bayway

During peak season, about 75,000 people cross with roughly half of that from non-local traffic, according to Tony Harris, the Government Relations Manager with ALDOT. Without the project, the department said all routes will experience peak traffic volumes by 2040, which could include upwards of 95,000 people daily.

The project is expected to break ground later in 2020 and begin requiring tolls in 2025, according to Allison Gregg, the Mobile River Bridge and Bayway Project spokesperson.

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